My childhood dream of becoming a mother was, at least in my mind, a fairly simple one. Get married, buy a home and have babies – three to be precise. Thirty-five was the milestone by which I hoped to have achieved all of this; by age twenty-nine I was well on track with two out of the three ticked off the list.
Almost as soon as my husband and I got engaged we started looking to buy a home. Given that both of these are majorly stressful events, my husband would have preferred to get the wedding over with first before starting to house hunt but, in order to keep to my plan, I wanted to have everything in place for the babies that I was sure would follow soon after we were married. Many of the houses we looked at were modest three-bed houses marketed at young couples like us. The owners were usually selling on due to their expanding brood and the need for more room. I convinced my husband that we would be much better off looking for a bigger house that we could live in forever and in which we could raise a large family. I pointed out how much hassle it would be to move house with small children and how it would be so much easier to buy a place where we could permanently put down roots. As usual, I managed to persuade him and we ended up with a perfect family home in a seaside suburb of Dublin. With four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a garden with plenty of room for a swing set, it also came with a huge mortgage – but that didn’t bother me since I had a good job that offered fully paid maternity leave. As far as I was concerned, there were no obstacles in sight.
Before we even moved in I had mapped out all of the rooms and their purposes. I designated the largest bedroom as ours as it had plenty of space for a crib and a king-size bed (to fit the kids in on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons) and I chose the room off the kitchen as a playroom so that I could easily keep an eye on the kids while cooking. I abandoned my plans for a solid wood floor and cream linen couches in favor of laminate flooring and dark leather couches, which are more child friendly and easier to clean. Instead of installing a free-standing antique bath, which is what I really wanted, I kept the standard shower over bath affair that came with the house as it would be much easier for bathing children. I also had to forgo the polished walnut staircase that I had dreamed of as it would just be too slippery and dangerous for kids. When it came to overhauling the garden, again my husband was overruled; this time on the Japanese Zen inspired garden he wanted as I insisted we keep the grass for the children to play on.
After a year of trying to conceive my dream home felt very big and very empty, and became a painful reminder of the life that I didn’t have. I couldn’t help but wish I hadn’t been so cautious and that I had decorated according to what my husband and I both wanted for our lives as they were then, as opposed to a future life with children. The room that made me most sad was, of course, the baby’s room, chosen immediately as the nursery due to its quiet location at the back of the house. The sunlight that floods through the window in the early morning makes it almost magical. Even after two years of trying to conceive I was very reluctant to use this room for storage and I tried to keep it as clutter free as possible so as not to spoil its magic. I imagined where I would put the crib, the rocking chair and the changing table. I even planned a neutral color scheme that would be suitable for a girl or a boy.
Of course, I never told anyone about these plans, especially after hearing friends talk in horror about people they knew who had rooms decorated and wardrobes filled with tiny outfits before a pregnancy had even been confirmed. Such behavior was thought to jinx things, so I did all the decorating and planning in my head. I sometimes visited websites to get ideas for nursery furniture and other baby paraphernalia. After a while, I was horrified to see that wherever I went on the Internet I was being targeted with adverts that assumed I was a new mother. As someone who worked in the online ad industry for many years and helped advertisers understand user behavior patterns – and, in particular, the typical path consumers take to purchase – I wondered if these retailers ever questioned why so many users came back to their site over and over again without buying anything.
In time, the baby’s room inevitably became a junk room; used to store Christmas decorations, large suitcases, spare furniture and other odds and ends, and it broke my heart. Whenever people came to visit, and I was giving them the obligatory tour, I would feel self-conscious about showing them that room as it was obvious to everyone what it should be used for. The playroom also eventually became a sunroom, although I furnished it with less care than the rest of the house, convinced at the time that it wouldn’t be a sunroom for long.
Living in an area where the main inhabitants are young families can be challenging for an infertile couple. The first year that we moved into our new house I couldn’t wait for Halloween. I had grown up in a very rural part of Ireland and, as a result, we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters coming to our door. After leaving home, I had always lived in apartment buildings occupied mainly by students or young professionals, so we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters there either.
On the first Halloween in our new house I made a huge effort, carving a real pumpkin, lighting lanterns in the window and stocking up on all the best sweets. The kids that came to my door that year actually referred to me as the lady that ‘has the good sweets’ which delighted me as I felt it proved that I really understood them. I enjoyed myself that night, despite the fact that the doorbell must have rung a hundred times and we ended up running out of treats and had to make an emergency trip to the local shop for more supplies.
I was smitten by the younger children, many still babies, adorably dressed as pumpkins or angels and I enjoyed the banter with the older kids who impressed me with the creativity of their homemade costumes. When I eventually sat down that night to watch a scary movie with my husband I was too excited to concentrate. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the Halloweens we had to look forward to as a family in our house. Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last through to the following year when I found myself making escape plans to a child-free hotel for the night.
Christmas was a similar story, with signs on every house (except ours) directing Santa to stop. On Christmas Day, every year, our road would be filled with excited children learning to ride their new bikes or scooters, or building snowmen if it happened to be a white one. It was hard looking out at them not knowing if Santa would ever visit our house.
We were also one of the few houses on our road with a front garden; most of the other houses had gotten rid of the grass in order to allow enough space for two family cars to park. Since we didn’t have two cars we decided to keep the grass. I regretted this decision when our front garden became a playground for our neighbors’ children. There were many evenings when, sitting in our front room watching TV, trying to relax and forget about infertility for a while, we would look up to see kids staring in at us. Although it was a bit disconcerting, we tried to put up with it so as not to offend our neighbors. After a while, however, seeing them playing there as opposed to the children we longed for upset me too much and I would scare them away like a cantankerous old woman in a fairytale. It did cross my mind that ordering them out of my garden might come back to haunt me if they grew up to become wayward teenagers who decided to pay back the grumpy lady, but it was worth the risk.
There were times when we considered selling up and moving back to an apartment in the city where we would not be surrounded by families, but something always made me change my mind. Buying the house had felt right and despite its emptiness it felt like home. I was hoping my instinct was trying to tell me that it would all come good in the end.
The above piece is an extract from Motherhoodwinked, Anne-Marie Scully’s infertility memoir which is currently available to buy in ebook on all Amazon stores. To find out more about the book and read sample chapters you can also visit www.motherhoodwinked.com
About The Author
Anne-Marie Scully is an Irish author and founder of digital publishing company Orchard Wall Publishing.
Motherhoodwinked, her first book, is a memoir documenting her struggle with infertility and IVF. Named for the frustration Anne-Marie felt at finding out that having a baby was not a given, as she had been led to believe since she was a child, Motherhoodwinked documents the pain and the shame of life as an infertile woman.
She lives with her husband Micheal in Dublin, Ireland and is still hoping to add motherhood to her biography at some stage in the future.